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Posted at 11:52 AM ET, 01/07/2012

Winter TV Press Tour 2012: NBC can’t figure out why it won’t serve up ‘Vodka’ in new sitcom name


“Are You There, Chelsea?” on NBC. (Michael Desmond - MICHAEL DESMOND/NBC)
For pure drama this television season, you can’t beat Chelsea Handler’s new NBC series.

Not the show itself – it’s just another sitcom. We’re talking about the great mystery that enshrouds the show’s name change.

Throw your mind back to last May, when NBC unveiled its new primetime lineup for this to advertisers in New York. At some point – we think it may have happened shortly before “Celebrity Apprentice” star Donald Trump took to the stage to announce he would not run for president – the network told the crowd it had ordered a new comedy series based on the late-night comic’s book “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea.” And it had the same name. (Handler’s late night show runs on E! which, like NBC, is owned by Comcast.)

At some point, however, a new name was substituted and the old one spirited away, so to speak. The new name -- the far more bland, “Are You There, Chelsea?”

In December, on an NBC-arranged phone conference call with reporters, bloggers, and such, Handler was asked about the change and explained, “you can’t put ‘vodka’ in the title for network purposes, so I thought ‘Are You There, Chelsea?’ was a funny play on the fact that I’m not playing myself.”

(In the sitcom, Laura Prepon plays Handler, and Handler actually plays the lead character’s sister. We’ll give you a minute to distill that convoluted scenario.)

“I thought it was a cute way to keep to the book and appease the whole anti-vodka situation,” Handler added – as well as, “Although there is plenty of drinking on the show – you just can’t have it in the title.”

One month later, at Winter TV Press Tour 2012 in Pasadena, a member of the press called the new name “kind of perplexing…because there’s no shortage of alcohol jokes in the show,” and asked, “Was that an NBC decision to take the word ‘vodka’ out of the title?”

“Some people like tequila…some people like beer. Not everybody likes vodka,” show star Prepon explalined.

“We don’t want to discriminate,” said Handler, tag-teaming with Prepon.

This new Embracing All Alcoholic Beverages explanation seemed a bit thin to one reporter who asked, “That wasn’t the real reason, was it?”

“Was it because NBC -- ”

“No,” Handler interrupted. “It was – actually was the real reason. Not everybody likes vodka, unbeknownst to me.”

“So it had nothing to do with NBC not wanting to maybe promote drinking a bit too much in the title of the show? Because it was originally announced as the full [book] title...last spring,” the reporter persevered.

At which point Handler said that ‘Are you There, Chelsea?’ is a play on ‘What am I thinking?’ and added, “This is not cable – it’s [broadcast] network. We wanted to have a broader appeal and make people feel like they could be interested in watching the show, whether or not they have as big of a drinking problem as I do.”

And, just when we thought the matter was settled, Handler left the stage and NBC chief Bob Greenblatt contradicted her, saying the sitcom’s name was changed because the 2008 book title was just too long at seven words.

“There was no mandate from anyone saying don’t put ‘vodka’ in the title of the show,” Greenblatt told the Associated Press in a scrum following the Handler Q&A..

Sigh.

By  |  11:52 AM ET, 01/07/2012

 
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